Spain views cup draw with unease, excitement

Spain doesn’t know what to make of its World Cup draw. Some are

confident, while others are fearful.

The 2010 winners prepare to defend their title in Brazil with a

squad in transition and several key players struggling to find

their usual impressive form this season.

Drawn alongside the Netherlands, Chile, and Australia in a tough

Group B, Andres Iniesta was spurred on by the prospect of having

all to play for from the opening kickoff.

”Exciting group to start the World Cup,” Iniesta tweeted,

”Let’s go!”

Spain opens the World Cup on June 13 at Salvador against the

same team it beat in the 2010 final, the Netherlands, when Iniesta

scored the stoppage-time winner in a 1-0 win in Johannesburg.

But Spain goes to Brazil with more doubts than certainties,

despite having picked up a second straight European Championship

in-between.

The nucleus of the team that has provided so much success is

older, with key players like Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Xabi

Alonso dealing with injuries this season.

Captain Iker Casillas is not even Real Madrid’s starting

goalkeeper.

And while Spanish strikers like Alvaro Negredo and Fernando

Llorente are succeeding in Europe, coach Vicente del Bosque may opt

for Diego Costa, a Brazilian-born, naturalized Spaniard, to lead

his attack.

”We’re going to have to be prepared from day one,” Del Bosque

said. ”That would certainly be better for our strength of mind. It

depends on us and the state of mind with which we approach the

group.”

Sports dailies As and Marca called Group B ”lethal” and

”dangerous,” with the latter saying ”We Start with a Final.” La

Vanguardia newspaper called it ”The Group of Death.”

Spain lost the last final it played – a 3-0 defeat to Brazil for

the Confederations Cup earlier this year.

The European champions have shown defensive frailties in World

Cup qualifying, dropping points against France and Finland on home

soil after conceding late goals. It has also been used to poor

showings in international friendlies.

”It is a complicated group. It is difficult, but there you

go,” said Spain supporter Alberto Rey, 33, as he watched the draw

alongside friends in a local bar in the Spanish capital. ”But I

think we can get to be top of the group with the team that we

have.”

Despite some frailties, Spain is a team rich in talent with

perhaps the top collection of midfielders in the world with

established talents like Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata, and David Silva,

plus the likes of Javi Martinez, Thiago, and Isco waiting for their

chance.

Stress may have already set in for the normally calm Del Bosque,

who could have the toughest task ahead in choosing his squad for

Brazil. The reaction of his players to the draw seems to indicate

they are ready to rise to the occasion.

”Nobody said it was going to be easy,” defender Gerard Pique

tweeted. ”Netherlands, Chile and Australia in our group!”

Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter (at)PaulLogoAP